Magical Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

March  8, 2018
16 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 1 cake
Author Notes

Traditionally, magicians don’t reveal their tricks, but, lucky for you, I’m not an actual sorcerer. (I just practice the dark chocolate arts from time to time.) Recently, I concocted a mysterious but incredibly delicious cake recipe that's sure to defy what you think you know about baking. So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, gather around for the most magical bake! You'll have to taste it to believe it.

The recipe starts out like all good magic tricks do, very simply. A silky chocolate cake batter is poured into a pan. Then, you top it with a concoction of brown sugar and cocoa powder. Strange? It gets even more mysterious. Next, you drown the top of the cake with hot water straight from the cauldron (or just regular hot tap water works fine), say a spell (this is optional, but I recommend it), wave your magic wand (or rubber spatula), pop the cake into the oven for twenty minutes, and bippidty boopity boo.

What comes out of the oven looks like a perfectly baked chocolate cake, but there’s a shocking surprise underneath. A hot, bubbly, molten layer of chocolate fudge. Is there an explanation for this? I'm sure. But, like most magic tricks, it’s probably more fun not to know. —Grant Melton

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • Ice cream, for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter an 8x8 squash baking pan or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
  2. Place flour, sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk. Using an electric mixer, beat in the butter and milk and mix until smooth and lump-free. Pour the batter into the buttered pan and place onto a cookie sheet, just in case the batter bubbles over a bit. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, using a fork, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and the brown sugar. Sprinkle the mixture over top of the cake batter in a flat even layer. Pour the hot water over top and immediately place into the oven.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. The cake should still be jiggly but dry and shiny on top and bubbly around the edges. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool for just a few minutes. Scoop the warm mixture into bowl and top with a scoop of ice cream.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Susan Gelfand
    Susan Gelfand
  • Julie
  • Silkwind
  • Barbara
  • Christopher Michael
    Christopher Michael

52 Reviews

Anne January 29, 2022
This recipe has been in our family as long as I can remember and I'm 60. Also known as Aunt Bessies Pudding. It had a crunchy chocolate top and the dark chocolate fudge pudding in the bottom. DELISH!
rap90 December 29, 2021
Wasn't a great magic trick, watery, will not make again.
alyssa M. April 19, 2021
I’m only 12 years old making this cake. It was really easy at first but I did mess up a little bit with the cocoa powder by adding a little too much but by reading other reviews it looks like it may have needed it. Haven’t tried it yet but looking in the oven it looks really delicious I will be trying it soon and may be adding another review. Stay tuned!
carlyn February 11, 2021
You can invert this "Upside-Down Fudge Cake" You'll have a shiny gorgeous "icing / glaze" which you can smooth with a spatula. Let the cake cool 15 minutes before inverting so the topping firms up a bit.
Also, the ingredients could be modified to 2 TBS melted butter for the batter, and 1 Cup hot water for the topping. I mix the sugar and cocoa with the 1 cup hot water, then pour it over the batter.
Bake at 375F.

Mora C. April 28, 2019
Made this last night for a group dinner. I used Scharffen Berger cocoa powder which I purchased fresh so that was not the problem. I found the cake to be watery, kind of cardboard-y and somewhat tasteless, a disappointment to say the least. I was thinking that next time I should add 1 cup instead of 1 1/2 cups hot water, but I think I'll avoid another mistake and move on to another recipe. :(
Salaams January 31, 2019
I'm so disappointed in this cake. And I'm really surprised to hear so many positive reviews. I found this to be quite flavorless and dry and rubbery. The molten part was tasty but the cake itself was pretty awful. I made it for my partner's birthday it almost took her bowl away from her because I didn't want her to eat it. I'm not really sure why everyone loves it so much. I used grade ingredients too. Kind of at a loss. I would not make it again.
Susan G. December 29, 2018
I have a suggestion for the sauce part of the recipe mix the cocoa and sugar together then add the boiling water to it with a tsp of vanilla then pour this over the cake. It works for me.
judy December 12, 2018
Been making this cake, and several versions of it, for decades. It is absolutely amazing. the custard sauce on the bottom is divine. Easy to vary the flavors: baileys, orange zest, stir in some finely grated coconut, An all time favorite. Also a lemon version is very good as well, or key lime or Meyer lemon. Thanks for the reminder. Haven't made one since last fall. got missed this fall in the midst of 2 moves. But will do for Christmas season for sure.
Christopher M. March 9, 2019
That sounds amazing! Any chance you’d share the lemon (and key lime) versions? I’m guessing they don’t have cocoa...
Julie September 4, 2018
I just made this, and it looked lovely. A little dark for my taste.

However, after eating it, it gave me the worst food poisoning I've had, barring a norovirus infection. After two hours of gastrointestinal distress, I tossed the rest of it down the garbage disposal, to prevent anyone else from suffering. I would normally not comment something like this, but the effects were unpleasant enough that I had to say something. I'm sorry, but I won't be making this again, ever.
Amy M. September 4, 2018
You can't get food poisoning from a recipe. If it was food poisoning, you got it from the quality of one of your ingredients. Given the ingredient list, milk is the only option that could go bad. Alternatively, you could have a food sensitivity.
Sipa October 30, 2018
There is absolutely nothing in this recipe that would intrinsically give you food poisoning.
K.V. October 31, 2018
A recipe consists of ingredients. Take some accountability rather than deflect responsibility. Dissappointed in Food52 for allowing your comment to post.
Amy November 2, 2018
This recipe would not cause food poisoning. A recall on flour that may have been sitting in your pantry a year or two, maybe? Cross contamination of something you may have cooked earlier, possibly? Please don't tell others not to make a perfectly delicious recipe over an unfortunate circumstance you
may have had.
Marie July 16, 2018
This recipe is similar to one I make from "Maida Heatter's Cakes" called "Kansas City Chocolate Dream." When I found her recipe I was thrilled because it so closely resembled a childhood dessert my mom made, which we dubbed Chocolate Glop.

There is one thing I would recommend for those who had trouble with the bottom layer coming out watery. Maida Heatter's recipe calls for bringing her topping ingredients, (1 cup of water, 1/2 c. brn sugar, 1/3 c. gran sugar, 6 tbs Dutched cocoa, 2 tsp instant coffee) to full boil. I use instant espresso instead of instant coffee, but either would be fine I think. Perhaps something about melting these sugars and having them boil before ladling them over the cake ensures they set up during the baking process...I've never had a failure. Any leftover cake ends up with a layer of pudding underneath the next day, which is also delicious.
Ellen M. June 26, 2018
Probably my favorite dessert of all time! Just delicious.
Silkwind April 15, 2018
Didn't need pan under it, cooked for 45 min, added some vanilla extract. The flavor is a little bland. Obviously, because 1 1/2 cups of water is added. A lot of chocolate cake recipes use espresso powder to up the flavor and I'd suggest that here. Just add some to the cake batter part. Do not add the liquid to the bottom instead!!! If you do you will get just uncooked cake. The water passing through the mixture is what makes this work. This is what is called a self-saucing pudding. If you don't like this recipe or would like to compare to similar ones that what you can look up. Also for leftovers I noticed right away that the sauce starts to thicken the longer it sets. So I imagine that once scooping left overs into a bowl and microwaving some of the sauce will be absorbed into the cake making for less sauce.
Christine April 15, 2018
For those who are willing to try this amazing cake, please get the highest quality cocoa power you can afford, as that'll make all the difference. I've tried it with the Hershey brand the first time and got mediocre result, but once I gave it another go with a premium Dutch brand, Droste, it was exquisite. I highly recommend this recipe with a better brand of cocoa powder.
Michelle March 28, 2018
I agree, there is not a lot of depth or sophistication in the flavor of this recipe. It's okay if you're craving something sweet and simple to make, but it's too sweet and almost not worth it. I did reduce the hot water to 1 1/4 cups and the sauce was a decent consistency, but the flavor profile was just too basic--like Hershey's syrup basic. I won't be baking this again.
Barbara March 25, 2018
This is nearly identical to the one in my old Betty Crocker (1961), “Hot Fudge Pudding Cake.” It calls for a 9” square pan and that works fine. I think you need that size instead of an 8” pan, as some readers suggest, so that the cake forms the right consistency in both layers. One tip about pouring in the hot water: hold a large serving spoon just above the batter and pour the water slowly into the spoon so it falls over the sides gently and you don’t create a big hole in the batter. My recipe bakes for 45 minutes and has worked every time. A family favorite.
Shravan March 21, 2018
Absolute waste of time, effort, ingredients and huge disappointment.. DON'T try it...
Christine April 15, 2018
I couldn't disagree more. I used high quality Dutch cocoa power, Droste, and it made a world of difference compared to Hershey's powder.
Amy March 20, 2018
I agree about the cake on top and hot water underneath. Did I do something wrong? Also - very sweet without much depth. I'm surprised it was a Community Pick.....
Mary March 18, 2018
Don’t waste your time or ingredients on this recipe. Don’t make it for your Easter waffle bar. Not only was it too soupy, it was so lacking in depth of flavor that I don’t even think good vanilla or coffee could save it. If you are going to indulge in a dessert or plan a dessert for company this isn’t it.
KM March 18, 2018
I noticed in the source article comments, a few people recommended reducing the hot water by 1/4 Cup to 1 1/4 cups. That might help with the folks who thought their recipes turned out "soupy"? That's what I'm going to try and I'll follow up with results...
cindy T. March 18, 2018
Does anyone know if this can be made in individual ramekins instead of one large pan, and can if be eaten the next day?